back to TCBC

Pieces of eight

Here's an interesting hand from a Cambs & Hunts league match, where taking the losing line cost us 8 VPs (from a possible 17–3 win to a 9–11 loss).

Rob

 S K Q 
 H A K 9 
 D A x x x 
 C K J x x   
both vul Toby

 S A x x x 
 H Q J T 7 x  
 D Q x 
 C A x 
Rob

2NT¹
3H
4H
5D³
6S³
7H
Toby

3D²
3S
4S³
6C³
6NT
pass
¹ 20–22½.
² transfer.
³ cue-bids.
After Rob opens 2NT and shows heart support I have enough for a slam, but there is an outside chance of a grand slam, so I cue-bid my controls. After my 6C cue-bid, Rob knows I'm looking for a grand slam, and—given his hand—to justify this, I must have the black aces that I've cue-bid, the HQ J x x x, and something extra. The only extras I can have are the CQ, the DK and the DQ. Two of these make 7H cold, while the third gives it a 50% chance. So Rob now bid 7H (he cue-bid 6S to give himself time to work all this out).

Unfortunately I had the DQ, so he now had to complement his excellent bidding with masterful play. He got the H8 lead. Now he should start by winning with the HA, cashing the SK Q, crossing to dummy's HQ and ruffing the small spade to reach:
 S  — 
 H  — 
 D A x x x 
 C K J x x 
both vul  S
 H J T 7 
 D Q x 
 C A x 
There are now 4 plausible lines to make the 13th trick:
  1. The obvious club finesse.

  2. Cash DA, cross to CA, draw trumps and cash SA (pitching diamonds). On the SA, if the same opponent has the CQ and the DK, he will have to either discard the DK, leaving you the DQ for your 13th trick, or bare the CQ, letting you make the CJ as your last trick—an automatic squeeze. This also works if the CQ was doubleton to start with. It also allows you to retain the option of finessing in clubs until trick 12; certain discards from opponents may suggest taking the finesse.

  3. Cash CA, draw trumps, cash CK, ruff club, and play the remaining trumps to reach this position:
     S  — 
     H  — 
     D A x     
     C
    both vul  S
     H  — 
     D Q x 
     C  — 

    Now when the SA is played, if South has the DK and the CQ, he will be squeezed because you discard after him—if he throws the CQ, throw a diamond from dummy and your hand is good; if he throws a diamond, throw the CJ, and dummy's DQ will win the last trick. This is a positional squeeze, which looks much less likely than the automatic squeeze at first glance, but also works if the CQ was doubleton or trebleton to start with.

  4. Cash CA and play all but one trump and the SA to reach:
     S  — 
     H  — 
     D
     C K J x   
    both vul  S  — 
     H
     D Q x 
     C

    If the same opponent has the DK and CQ, he will have either bared the DK—when you can cash the DA, CK, then dummy will be good—or reduced himself to CQx—when you can cash CK, ruff club, and your hand will be good. This therefore works when the automatic squeeze works, and gives you the additional chance of ruffing out CQxx in clubs. Unfortunately, you have to guess what to play for—the lines if your opponent bares his DK and if he reduces to CQx in clubs are different, so you have to guess which he has done.

Rough calculations show that all these lines are about 50%!

Against non-expert opponents, line 4 is perhaps the best line, as they are unlikely to be familiar with defending against the trump squeeze, and might make it obvious by hesitating over their last discard. If not, your opponent is unlikely to bare the DK with the DQ looking threatening in dummy—they would look silly if you didn't have the CJ—and trying to ruff the CJ good succeeds in more of the cases where the squeeze fails.

Anyway, on the actual hand, the CQ was doubleton offside, so all the lines except the finesse would have worked. Alas, Rob guessed wrong, and we lost 8 VPs and the match (the small slam was bid in the other room, so we lost 17 IMPs on this board instead of gaining 13).